02 April 2020

Looking for the idyllic in dismal times

There is a day, a time or perhaps a moment that is remembered frequently and even wistfully. The day before anyone had heard of Corvid-19. A time when the tragedies it would unleash were unknown. Many, I am sure, would want the world and life to re-boot to that point, barring those communities that were caught in play of guns and bombs of course. Such things have ceased. For now. Anyway, that pre-Corvid-19 time would certainly seem idyllic for many. 

My friend Kanishka Goonewardena put things in perspective a couple of days ago, posting on Facebook an exchange between the German magazine Der Spiegel (‘The Mirror’) and the German philosopher Theodor W Adorno. The interviewer from the Der Speigel makes an observation, ‘Professor, two weeks ago the world seemed to be still fine…’ Adorno cuts in with the trite and telling, ‘Not to me…’

Of course in the idyllic ‘back then’ that’s currently the most popular there weren’t worldwide lockdowns. There was no panic, although people were dying in the hundred of cancer and other diseases. There was no panic buying and no social distancing. Was everything alright, though? 

Adorno died in 1969. How has the world fared? We’ve bragged about technology, space exploration, breakthroughs in communication, cures for certain diseases and so on.  We have been mesmerized by the glitter of the ‘good life’ as such has been marketed to the world, even though only a fraction can actually enjoy it while the vast majority of people have to make do with crumbs or nothing. We have developed weapons that wipe out nations in the matter of a few seconds. We’ve seen some nations bombed into the Middle Ages. We’ve starved millions. We’ve poisoned the hearth, our waterways and the air we breathe. We have devastated the natural world. We’ve lost each other and ourselves.

And today, we rue the fact that we bartered food security for an economic paradigm that sold us the lie that if we had adequate growth we could always buy the food we needed, never mind the toxins embedded the food we’ve been forced to buy. We rue many things, in fact. For example traditional knowledge systems that include medicine and environment-friendly technologies that have been robbed, re-named and re-sold or erased from memory by the burning of books, mindless vilification and lack of use.

Is there a long ago that was idyllic? And how long ago, if so? Were people happier then? Did they not fret? Was life more predictable? Assuming there was such a lovely place, could we ever return to it?

Tough questions to answer. However, if the tourism industry tells us anything it is that those who have had the biggest slices of the so-called ‘good life’ very often spend their disposable incomes to obtain a slice of an idyllic that’s far away from glitter and buzz of their diurnal. It’s to faraway mountains, lonely beaches and other such landscapes that they go. ‘To recharge batteries,’ they tell us. The tourism industry is only beginning to ‘send’ customers to less physical destinations. That’s been the preserve of those in the business of selling and buying science that’s not called science, philosophy, culture and lifestyle.

Well, now it seems that it would have been better not to venture too far from such places. We’ve lost that paradise, some claim. Have we, really? Perhaps we’ve not lost it but put it under threat and dragged it to a place where its demise is imminent. Perhaps it’s just that we’ve lost the eyes to see it, for it can also be argued that that lost worlds iare all around us and even within us. Only, we have lost the capacity to see these landscape, physical and otherwise, or the wisdom to assess their worth. 

One thing is certain. We can’t go back. We can however go forward. There’s nostalgia for that which has passed. There’s hope about a different future, not just a future that’s green but a future where people don’t die of starvation or disease on account of being unable to access overflowing granaries and effective healthcare, respectively. 

Two thing. The natural world (yes, that’s not a ‘one thing’ but is made of the countless) and community. In the pursuit of profit and it’s illusion, we have subverted both. They are both recoverable. Perhaps it is time for us to consider the possibility that it is only by attempting to recovering or regenerating the natural world and cultivating solidarity that we can hope to locate a realistic ‘better world.’ 

The idyllic, then, is somewhere out there. It is in the past. It is in the ‘faraway’ that we mostly think of as ‘tourist destination’. It is also in the future — if we have the will and the wisdom. Indeed, it has to be the future, if we want a future at all.

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News']

Water the gardens with the liquid magic of simple ideas, right now

There's canvas and brush to paint the portraits of love
We might as well arrest the house!
The 'village' in the 'city' has more heart than concrete
Vo, Italy: the village that stopped the Coronavirus
Heroes of our times Let's start with the credits, shall we?   
The 'We' that 'I' forgot 'Duwapang Askey,' screamed a legend, almost 40 years ago
Dances with daughters
Reflections on shameless writing
Is the old house still standing? 

 Magic doesn't make its way into the classifieds
Small is beautiful and is a consolation  
Distance is a product of the will
Akalanka Athukorala, at 13+ already a hurricane hunter 
Did the mountain move, and if so why?
Ever been out of Colombo? 
Anya Raux educated me about Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
Wicky's Story You can always go to GOAT Mountain
Let's learn the art of embracing damage
Kandy Lake is lined with poetry
There's never a 'right moment' for love
A love note to an unknown address in Los Angeles
A dusk song for Rasika Jayakody  
How about creating some history?
How far away are the faraway places?
There ARE good people!
Re-placing people in the story of schooldays   
When we stop, we can begin to learn
Routine and pattern can checkmate poetry
Janani Amanda Umandi threw a b'day party for her father 
Sriyani and her serendipity shop 
Forget constellations and the names of oceans
Where's your 'One, Galle Face'?
Maps as wrapping paper, roads as ribbons
Yasaratne, the gentle giant of Divulgane  
Katharagama and Athara Maga
Victories are made by assists
Lost and found between weaver and weave
The Dhammapada and word-intricacies


Anonymous said...

Totally agree. We make our futures. While the past seems idyllic in present times of 'crisis', we should by all means re-evaluate what it is we hold to be idyllic, and whether that is compatible with the future we really want.